Auction houses are not the only places to find fine wine nowadays. JOHN STIMPFIG looks at the investment options.
Whether buying or selling fine wine you need to know where to get the best wines at the best prices. There’s never been more choice for trading fine investment wine as there is today. Brokers, merchants, auctioneers, consultants, e-tailers and portfolio managers all vie for your business. But which do you choose?Most experienced collectors will purchase from more than one source and aim to build up good relationships with trustworthy, reputable suppliers. The advantages of this can be twofold. First, hot-off-the-press tips and advice will be forthcoming to favoured clients. Similarly, highly sought-after wines are more likely to be offered to you early, providing you have bought regularly in the past.
If you are a novice collector, talk to several suppliers to see who suits you best in terms of service, price and advice when buying and selling. Meanwhile, here’s a run-down of who does what, and where to find them.
Auction houses can be the places to acquire ‘fine, old and rare’ vintages, often at very keen prices. The leading houses will also offer advice to collectors and investors. If you’re a novice, you can view some catalogues online or purchase them to identify which ‘lots’ you’re interested in. You should then compare the reserve price with merchants’ lists and decanter.com’s Tracker Index. Set an upper limit bid price and stick to it. Anthony Hanson, head of Christie’s, recommends you watch a sale or two before you join in. To take part, you can either attend the auction or make an absentee bid by fax or post. Some regular clients can bid by phone (by previous arrangement). Whichever way you bid, you’ll have to pre-register and be credit-checked. Costs usually include a buyers and sellers premium (generally 10–15%). You should also take into account VAT and whether the wines are duty paid or in bond. If you’re selling by auction, remember that the whole process can take several weeks before you get your money.
Christie’s, London: +44 20 7389 2723
Zachys-Christie’s New York: +1 212 636 2000
Sotheby’s, London: +44 20 7293 6423
Aulden Cellars-Sotheby’s New York: +1 212 606 7000
J Straker, Chadwick & Sons, Abergavenny: +44 1873 852 624
Acker Merrall & Condit, New York: +1 212 787 1700 (also wine merchants)
Morrell & Co, New York: +1 212 307 4200 (also wine merchants)
Two of the most successful new online purveyors are Uvine and Winebid. The former is a real-time fine wine exchange which operates exactly like a stock market trading floor. Bids are offered and received for particular wines (always by the case) until a price is agreed. Commission costs are very reasonable, just 5% either side of the sale. Most of Uvine’s clients are trade customers although a significant number are private customers.
In contrast, winebid.com is an online auction house aimed at private buyers dealing in much smaller lot sizes of just a few bottles. Commission rates are 12.5% and easy-to-follow, rolling auctions generally occur every two weeks. Like Uvine, Winebid offer advice, appraise wine and guarantee provenance. Acker Merrall & Condit and Morrell’s in New York have also both run live internet auctions in recent years. Lastly, do be wary of peer-to-peer internet auctions where the wine is not authenticated by a reputable independent specialist.
www.uvine.com; www.winebid.com; www.morrellwineauctions.com;
The UK and US have some of the world’s best and most reputable
merchants where you can purchase en primeur wines, buy and sell older vintages and seek advice. Established operators like Berry Bros & Rudd, John Armit and Corney & Barrow also boast broking departments and these are excellent sources of free information on valuations and trends, as well as buying and selling at fair market prices. Buying and selling wine through merchants’ broking departments is usually very quick and commission rates cost between 7–15%.
Corney & Barrow: +44 20 7251 4051
Berry Bros & Rudd: +44 20 7396 9600
Bibendum: +44 20 7722 5577
Lay & Wheeler: +44 1206 764 446
Justerini & Brooks: +44 20 7493 8721
Cave Cru Classé: +44 20 7378 8579
Zachy’s NY, USA: +1 914 723 0241
Sam’s Wines & Spirits, Chicago, USA: +1 866 726 7946
Wally’s, LA, USA: +1 310 475 0606
Just as the merchants have moved into broking, so the wine brokers have done the opposite. Apart from dealing with more and more private clients, brokers like Wilkinson Vintners own all its own stock and is very happy to offer advice to novice collectors and investors. Wilkinsons also offers excellent ‘after sales service’. Equally, the world’s biggest brokers or ‘wholesale fine wine merchants’, Farr Vintners will offer private customers good advice along with minimum case orders of £500 (not including primeurs). Farr’s prices are extremely competitive and often unbeatable. However, they warn private buyers not to expect a full retail service. Most brokers now have their ‘lists’ online.
Farr Vintners: +44 20 7821 2000 or www.farr-vintners.com
Bordeaux Index: +44 20 7278 9495 or www.bordeauxindex.com
+44 20 7272 1982 or email –
Seckford Wines: +44 1394 446 622 or www.seckfordwines.co.uk
Investment Portfolios/Private Consultants
If you prefer not to take the DIY route to buying, there are a couple of hand-holding alternatives. One or two wine investment companies now manage wine portfolios for private clients. Using the advice of specialist consultants, you buy the wine outright and have it stored under your name. Your portfolio is then monitored for growth and you are advised on the optimum times to buy, sell or drink your wines.
John Armit Wines has been providing this service for many years, World Wine Exchange is more recent. The latter provides clients with a quarterly statement and is supported by professional, regulated financial services partners. In addition, you have access to your consultants by phone and can monitor your account online.
Alternatively, you can hire your own private wine consultant. This may also involve a management or monthly fee depending on what level of service you require. These companies offer independent expertise but at a price which will reduce your profit margins.
John Armit Wines: +44 20 7727 6846
World Wine Exchange: +44 20 7692 2020
Vincent Gasnier: +44 2380 610 476
Jackson Fine Wines: +44 151 236 7565
Judy Beardsall & Associates, New York: +1 212 486 0063
Written by JOHN STIMPFIG